Skip to main content

Full text of "The History Of Western Education"

See other formats


man chooses to consider them, but are the essential ideas that
underlie certain lines of conduct, for which the ordinary person
can find the warrant in his own experience when that experience
is properly examined. From this followed the doctrine that
made Socrates the pioneer of a remarkable line of educational
thinkers—the doctrine that virtue is knowledge. By this he did
not mean that the mere knowledge of what goodness is is enough
to make a man do what is good ; but rather that unless there is
such knowledge of the object aimed at, no action that the ignorant
man performs deserves to be regarded as good. Now, if good
action depends to this extent on knowledge, it follows that virtue
is teachable, and ought to be taught; and that the only way of
escape from the uncertainty created by the sophistic discussions
was to carry these discussions further and find out by personal
learning what were the ultimate grounds of action in which
consisted its goodness or badness.

It was this conviction that led Socrates to become a teacher.
But his contribution to educational thought did not end hcsre.
Not only did he establish the intimate connection between right
action and right thoughts, but he tried to show how it was possible
to think right thoughts. The so-called Socratic method te
sometimes said to be a process of induction, and the statement
is right so far as it goes. Socrates and the youth with whom he
happened to be conversing would set themselves to attempt a
definition. Suppose the word "piety" or "temperance" had
chanced to come up in their conversation. Socrates ankft:
" What is * piety' ? What is ' temperance * ?>7 The youth »aya
what he thinks it is. Socrates at once brings forward some
particular cases that the answer does not fit, and between them
they abandon or modify the first definition* So the process goes
on under the guidance of the master's questions and suggestions
until they reach a definition with which they are both satisfied.
The method has obviously an inductive element in it, but it is
not purely inductive. \ Perhaps it is better to speak of it with
Aristotle as a process of definition under criticism. That does
justice to the essential feature of it: that it begins with a general-
ization from ordinary experience, and goes on to the more adequate
definition of the essential idea underlying the particular facts.
Whether Socrates applied the method outside the sphere of
conduct is not certain. The Platonic Socrates in the Meno elicits